Tests prove Arafat died of polonium poison, says widow

Yasser Arafat died in a French hospital. Now an Al Jazeera sponsored report claims he died of radioactive poisoning. Picture: Reuters
Yasser Arafat died in a French hospital. Now an Al Jazeera sponsored report claims he died of radioactive poisoning. Picture: Reuters
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PALESTINIAN leader Yasser Arafat did die of radioactive polonium poisoning, his widow has revealed.

Speaking in Paris yesterday, Suha Arafat said she now had the results of Swiss forensic tests on his corpse.

She said: “We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination.”

A team of experts, including from Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics, opened Mr Arafat’s grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November, and took samples from his body to test for poisons.

“This has confirmed all our doubts,” said Mrs Arafat, who met members of the Swiss team in Geneva on Tuesday. “It is scientifically proved he didn’t die a natural death and we have scientific proof this man was killed.”

She did not accuse anyone of commissioning his poisoning, but acknowledged the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader had many enemies. He spent the last two-and-a-half years of his life besieged in his Ramallah compound, under repeated attack by Israeli missiles.

The Israeli government denies any part in his 2004 death, noting that he was 75 and had an unhealthy lifestyle.

An investigation by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news channel first reported last year that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Mr Arafat given to his widow by the French military hospital where he died.

That led French prosecutors to open a murder investigation in August 2012 at her request.

Forensic experts from Switzerland, Russia and France all took samples from his corpse for tests after the Palestinian Authority agreed to open his mausoleum.

The head of the Russian forensics institute, Vladimir Uiba, was quoted by the Interfax news agency last month as saying no polonium had been found but later denied he had made any official comment.

The French pathologists have not reported their conclusions publicly, nor have their findings been shared with Mrs Arafat’s legal team. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said the investigating magistrates had received no expert reports so far.

One of her lawyers said the Swiss institute’s report, commissioned by Al Jazeera, would be translated from English into French and handed to the three investigating magistrates.

Professor David Barclay, a UK forensic scientist retained by Al Jazeera to interpret the Swiss data, said the findings confirmed earlier results from traces of bodily fluids on Mr Arafat’s underwear, toothbrush and clothes. “In my opinion, it is absolutely certain that the cause of his illness was polonium poisoning,” Mr Barclay said. “The levels present in him are sufficient to have caused death.”

The same radioactive substance was slipped into tea in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From his deathbed, he accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

The UK government refused to hold a public inquiry after it withheld sensitive material.

Mr Barclay said the polonium in Mr Arafat’s body must have been manufactured in a nuclear reactor.

Mr Arafat fell ill in October 2004, with diarrhoea and vomiting. At first Palestinian officials said he was suffering from flu.

He was flown to Paris in a French government jet but fell into a coma shortly afterwards at Percy military hospital, where he died on 11 November.

The official cause of death was a stroke but doctors were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.